date of visit: Tuesday 12 July 2016
disclaimer: I was a guest of The Propaganda Club
One of the perks of writing a food blog is invitations to try out places I wouldn’t normally go. Obviously, that can also have its downside, but in the case of this adventure, it was a definite plus.
The Propaganda Club bills itself as ‘Adelaide’s only late night supper club’. The bulk of its menu is served til midnight and after midnight there is a slimmed down version. I don’t get why Adelaide needs this, I don’t get who is going to opt for smart dining so late at night but then I am probably not the target market.
Fortunately for those of us old enough and boring enough to not be needing snacks outside the hours offered by the standard Adelaide restaurant, The Propaganda Club (hereafter referred to as TPC because I am a lazy writer) is open by 4pm most days (6pm Saturday and only open for private events on Sunday and Monday). This makes it a great venue for a post-work drink or dining at a more, shall we say, regular hour.
You might hear TPC’s location described as downstairs in Regent Arcade. While I have no doubt that it’s technically accurate, it implies that the venue is somehow in the middle of the arcade, when actually, you enter from Grenfell Street. This is quite important in the evening when the arcade is shut and attempting to go via Rundle Mall is the wrong approach! I can’t quite remember what used to be in this space – I think at one point it might have been a dodgy bar (that’s a fuzzy memory from my uni days …), children’s clothing shop and perhaps even a cheap noodle restaurant.
The re-fit has been significant and yes – it looks exactly like it does on its website. You enter through a massive sliding door on Grenfell Street and are greeted by front of house staff who will direct you downstairs to either the Soho Lounge or the Manhattan Room.
The Soho Lounge (and accompanying Sidecar Bars), decked out in icy blue velvet upholstery, looks like a great place to have a drink – either post work or at the start of a night out. My tip here is to get on to this before it gets popular.
The Manhattan Room is the restaurant. Same ash-grey wood floor (which not only looks smart but I suspect it will age extremely well), but this time rich red velvet upholstery. The seating layout is booths with long tables down the middle of the dining area. I dined on a Tuesday evening and it was lovely and quiet – so I hope that at busier times the well upholstered booths do a reasonable job of sound-deadening.
As my friend and I were dining as guests of the venue, we were offered a complimentary drink each along with some nibbles, two of the ‘small’ plates and two desserts. I chose Champagne (because I don’t drink cocktails) and my friend opted for TPC’s take on an espresso martini. The espresso martini got a thumbs up (she’s an expert) so she then put herself out by experimenting with the Airmail – also a big tick. The house Champagne is Besserat and the $20 a glass (retail looks to be around $80 a bottle) is not unreasonable. I was pleased that a bottle was opened for me (ordering wine, especially sparkling wine, by the glass freaks me out as I’ve had so many bad experiences) but less pleased that our waiter told us how much wine training the staff had had while she opened the bubbles wrongly*. Eek!
Our nibbles were some olives and the caraway seed ciabatta. I love caraway seed so felt they could beef up the caraway seed component but other than that, I loved the fact that this was served as a whole, warm loaf.
For our two small plates, the venue had made the choice for us – steak tartare ($25) and the beetroot salad ($20). I had a glass of The Other Wine Co Grenache and across the table Hesketh’s Bright Young Things Sauvignon Blanc ($12 and $10, respectively). Steak tartare is making a welcome return to menus in Adelaide, but I now realise I have some very firm opinions on this dish.
TPC’s was served with a quail’s egg (daintily hidden under a quail’s egg shell, for a dramatic reveal) and was really very good. The meat was not too finely chopped (if it is, it becomes pappy), it was really well spiced and the use of a quail’s egg meant the proportion of egg to meat was (in my opinion!) correct. Too much egg and things can become slimy. Spicing is important too – you need things like mustard and capers to cut through the meat.
And most importantly – TPC does NOT skimp on the accompanying mini toasts. FULL MARKS. (And the waiting staff were told this rather effusively – I love my carbs and having to eke out that aspect of the dish annoys me rather a lot).
My dining companion was not as enthusiastic about the prospect of steak tartare as I was but was pleased to decide that not only had she really enjoyed it, it had actually converted her.
The beetroot salad was not quite as exciting – obviously beetroot is a great match for steak – and the soft Persian feta worked really well but it just lacked a little something. After thinking about it, I reckon that the addition of some lightly pickled root vegies would provide the necessary lift.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the two small plates were enough in terms of the amount of food – thus making TPC much more affordable than its online menu suggested. If you are particularly hungry you might have to explore either a large plate or three small plates between two but don’t look at the menu and assume you’ll need to spend the $60-$80 on a small and a large plate per person.
For dessert we had the opera slice and the crema catalana. The crema catalana is infused with orange and topped with mandarin so one mouthful was enough for me but my friend loved it. The opera slice was nice but, served with both chocolate ganache and sorbet and some crumbled praline and a wafer, it had a touch of the deconstructions about it. I think I’d prefer just a slice of really excellent gâteau opéra without any trimmings. I almost feel bad writing that, as it’s not as though there was anything wrong with it – it just didn’t wow me for some really quite indefinable reason (and, naturally, your mileage may vary!).
One thing that really impressed me about our meal at TPC was the way it was structured. Aside from the initial invitation, our experience was as much like that of an actual customer as possible. We weren’t part of a group of hosted diners being served a cross section of the menu – we had normal dishes from the à la carte menu. We weren’t given free-reign on alcohol which meant we could get a feel for how the wine list works with the menu. In particular, I was pleased to see that the wine list was interesting and sanely structured (without being achingly trendy). There are plenty of wines available by the glass and most are $10. Someone who has an interest in wine has had a guiding hand in this and it makes me happy. The combination of bar and restaurant means that your choice of apéritifs and digestifs and everything in between is comprehensive.
At the end of our meal, one of the chefs came out from the kitchen and asked for our immediate feedback on everything from the food through to the service and timing. This is a great idea – I think the venue will get much more honest and accurate feedback than they ever will through a blog post. Little things will often not make the cut when it comes to writing a post and nothing has been through the filter of hindsight.
I’ve already recommended the Soho Lounge to friends as somewhere to head for a drink and I personally would head back to TPC to eat some more of that steak tartare. It’s always lovely when a venue exceeds expectations!
The Propaganda Club
110 Grenfell Street
Adelaide SA 5000
phone: 8223 6411
* Hold the cork, turn the bottle!